The chophouse is a legendary American tradition that we proudly call our own: From blood-dripping porterhouse steaks to martinis and power suits, its rituals have come to define us.
We owe much of this legacy to New York, which ushered in a wave of steakhouses in the mid 19th-century that were patronized by New York elite. Not surprisingly, the Meatpacking District was central to its growth—Old Homestead on 9th Ave is reportedly the oldest operating steakhouse in the country.
But the customs that anchor the steakhouse to American identity don’t necessarily hold true for other meat-centric temples from around the world. While feasting on marbled slabs of grilled meat is common practice, everyone’s approach varies. In Brazil, the meat is skewered on large swords; in Taiwan, it’s hastily dumped on individual cast iron skillets and smothered with a beautiful black-pepper sauce.
Here, we take a look at the celebration of juicy meat in all its glory from six different parts of the globe.
In the 1990s, then-president Carlos Menem famously told an American magazine: “Tell your readers, don’t come to my country if they’re vegetarian.” It’s true. Argentinians love their meat: The average Argentinian consumes 64.2 more pounds of beef per year than their American counterparts. At Argentinian steakhouses, chefs are adamant about sourcing only the best cuts. Most of the cows are grass-fed on the fertile lowlands of the country, and the beef is cooked over a wooden coal grill with minimal marinades and seasonings. Dark-green chimichurri sauce—made with black pepper, parsley, garlic, oil, and vinegar—is a common condiment (though locals tend to like it better with sausage). Like the American institution, Argentine steakhouses put heavy emphasis on their red wine list, but instead of a bread basket, they might offer something like empanadas to start. (Photo: searchpp.com)
The Brazilian steakhouse is called a churrascaria, a festive gathering place that translates to “house of barbecue.” Its history can be traced to the gauchos of southern Brazil, whose job was to herd cattle from one state to another. During meal times, they would build a fire pit in the ground and grill their meat rotisserie-style. Glimpses of this practice can still be found in the modern Brazilian steakhouse. Meats are carefully marinated and cooked over an open flame. The ordering process is one grand ceremony: Meat waiters, known as passadores, will march around the restaurant with large swords with skewered meats. Their job: to hand-carve the cuts and make you feel like a king. (Photo: RainhasNYC)
When Western-style steakhouses made their way into Taiwan, affordability was a huge issue for locals who were not in the upper income bracket. So enterprising chefs came up with a fast casual take on the American steakhouse utilizing plastic chairs and an open-air dining arrangement. Today, the Taiwanese steakhouse can be found at local night markets. The setting is loose—patrons receive a meat cut of their choice, piled high with black pepper sauce and spaghetti from a box. Everything is served on an individual cast-iron plates, and in true night-market fashion, service is pretty much non-existent. (Photo courtesy Clarissa Wei)
The teppanyaki reportedly originated in 1945 at a restaurant called Misono in Japan, where it eventually became more popular among foreigners than locals. Teppanyaki translates to “iron plate grill,” and meats are cooked tableside by chefs whose job is to provide entertainment with dextrous knife tricks. It’s an extremely interactive experience, especially for a place like Misono, which serves Kobe beef and Japanese cattle of the highest rank. The theatrics are more pronounced in Western teppanyaki joints than actual Japanese ones, though. So yes, that hibachi onion volcano trick is a touristy thing. Perhaps we’re just more easily amused. (Photo: teppenyaki.com)
The trademark of the Korean meat feast is its DIY attitude. Customers cook raw meats and veggies on a built-in table grill, creating a wonderful smoky aroma that permeates the restaurant. You might have heard rumors, but don’t expect unlimited meat: The all-you-can-eat-KBBQ philosophy started in the States; beef buffets are virtually nonexistent in Korea (beef is more expensive there). Banchan—small side dishes of kimchi and other pickled vegetables—are requisite to every dining experience; the tang and funk pair particularly well with the mounds of savory short ribs. Note: In Koreatowns across the United States, servers are kind enough to help first-timers cut and grill the meat. (Photo courtesy Julie Yu)
Icelandic whale-steak restaurants
Serving whale meat is a punishable crime in places like Los Angeles, but in other parts of the globe, the same rules don’t apply. Islenski Barinn in Iceland proudly serves whale steak, along with other atypical proteins like horse and puffin. It’s not an outlier by any means, though: More than 100 restaurants in the country have whale on the menu. The country has had a long-standing, complicated history with whale eating. It was common until the 1970s, and then banned for decades until 2006. The mammal in question is Minke whale, which, when cooked, is practically indistinguishable from beef. The chef at Barinn pairs it with béarnaise sauce and french fries. And just to set the record straight: Whale tastes like steak, horse tastes like pork. (Photo courtesy Andy Wang)